Homelessness in Lynchburg is something best addressed by multiple community partners working together.
That was the premise of a Monday luncheon meeting at the University of Lynchburg, where area professionals and business representatives sat among agencies fighting homelessness to network.
Nat Marshall, human resources manager at BWX Technologies and a board member for several agencies, stressed the meeting wasn’t intended to introduce any new initiative or program to reduce homelessness. Instead, it featured community agencies already working with the homeless and near-homeless population and suggested steps employers can take to help protect employees who might be one emergency away from a path toward homelessness.
Marshall said he’d spoken with leaders of agencies that work with homeless individuals and tapped into business listings from the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, the Central Virginia Workforce Development Board and United Way of Central Virginia, literally inviting professionals to the table to address homelessness. He said companies need to be creative in methods to maintain a healthy workforce.
“In order to be able to have a steady workforce, they’ve got to now start looking at, ‘what can we do today proactively that can give you a steady stream of folks?’” he said in an interview.
Beyond that, he said, it’s important for people facing crisis — that “one step away” from potential homelessness — to know what help is available. He said it’s enough for a member of the business community to have made a connection Monday with a provider to whom they could direct someone in need.
William Coleman, president and CEO of the Lynchburg Community Action Group, said area businesses have options in how they can help struggling communities become thriving communities. Lyn-CAG provides temporary housing at the Hand-Up Lodge and runs a number of assistance programs.
“We don’t need one more slogan, we don’t need one more phrase — what we need is action,” he said. “We need to take very specific steps and say ‘this is what we’re committing to and this is how we’re going to move forward.’”
He said employers can do their part in reviewing hiring practices to make them as inclusive as they can of individuals with a criminal record, who can be at risk of homelessness, reviewing company policies or loosening zero tolerance policies and providing their workers with a living wage.
Attendees could hand their contact information to the University of Lynchburg’s Center for Community Engagement, which will connect them with more information and the potential for partnerships with nonprofits and other service groups.
Every year, agencies that fight homelessness conduct a Point-in-Time Count in the city to get a snapshot of how many individuals are without a home. It’s a survey that’s required by the U.S. Department of Housing. The most recent count found the number of homeless individuals on a given night in Lynchburg decreased by 30% from 2018 to 2019.
But the Central Virginia Continuum of Care, a network of such agencies, found more and more individuals have used its services during the past few years.
One step toward more efficiency in finding people homes has been the use of a “by-name list” of individuals who receive services from Lynchburg agencies, an effort started last fall. Miriam’s House, a nonprofit that works to secure people with stable housing, maintains that list, according to its executive director, Sarah Quarantotto.
She said workers from every agency in the continuum meet every two weeks to review cases for every individual who’s getting help from those agencies. The list has proved to be effective, she said, and Lynchburg is close to reducing the number of chronically homeless people and homeless veterans to “functional zero.” That means, for instance, there are as many veterans moving into housing every month as there are actively homeless veterans during that month.
“Certainly, if businesses or professionals are aware of a homeless person that is unknown to the [continuum] then we would want them to reach out to Coordinated Homeless Intake and Access so that we can dispatch our street outreach worker to meet with them and get them into housing,” she told The News & Advance in an email.
Clay Coleman spoke to those present Monday as a member of the business community who felt he was “called” to help build collaboration in reducing homelessness. He said there’s plenty of potential to “harness the philanthropic spirit of the community” toward that goal.
“We need people with ideas to get involved,” he said, pointing to Monday’s small group discussions as the first step toward building out those ideas.
Rachel Mahoney writes for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5554.